New program aims to create more uniform standards among linked learning academies
The Linked Learning Alliance, which includes teachers, employers, colleges, policy organizations and other groups, announced its new certification program at its annual conference this week in Oakland.
“It’s like taking the Wild West and bringing it into a lane of coherence,” said Alex Taghavian, vice president of the Linked Learning Alliance. “Having clear, set standards is something we need as linked learning expands and more and more districts and schools join in.”
Linked learning refers to special academies within high schools that link the curriculum to career-related topics such as engineering or biotech. The academies offer college-prep courses in addition to internships, with the goal of giving students real-world experience based on what they’re learning in the classroom and preparing them for jobs or college majors. The topics are often related to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM fields, and are intended reflect the needs of the local job market. Linked Learning Alliance maintains a list of programs around the state.
Such career academies have been around informally for decades, often as vocational education, but have evolved to include tougher academics and broader subjects, such as the Law and Government Academy at Highland High in Palmdale and the Agriculture Academy at Galt High in rural Sacramento County. In the Health Academy at Oakland Technical High, for example, students take physiology labs, medical chemistry, AP biology and other courses. They also participate in summer internships at Kaiser Permanente, Children’s Hospital Oakland, the Oakland Fire Department and other local organizations. Guest speakers, field trips, first-aid certification and public health service projects are included in the program as well.
Certification includes about two dozen measurements, ranging from the number of college credits offered to how interdisciplinary projects are woven into the curriculum. Everything must be documented, including student test scores, attendance rates, the number of internships and the extent of career and college counseling provided by the program.
Studies have found that linked learning has had a positive effect on graduation rates and college and career readiness. A 2016 report by SRI International found that students enrolled in linked learning programs were 5.3 percent more likely to graduate from high school than their peers who had not participated in the programs, were 2 percent less likely to drop out, and had earned an average of 8.9 more credits by the end of high school.
The new certification program announced Tuesday is expected to further boost linked learning academies. Inspired by the LEED certification program of the U.S. Green Business Council, the program will start with “candidate” and “silver” certifications, and next year will include “gold” and possibly “platinum,” said Hilary McLean, executive vice president of the Linked Learning Alliance.
Certifications will be issued by the Linked Learning Alliance. To achieve certification, staff at linked learning academies would answer a series of questions at certification.linkedlearning.org such as whether the program includes college guidance, job application workshops, student orientation or a sequence of at least three career-themed courses. Staff are also required to provided data to back up their claims. The certification level – “candidate,” “silver” or eventually “gold” –depends on how many of the benchmarks an academy achieves. Academies can improve their ranking any time.
The primary goals are to help schools and districts see what needs improvement, recognize academies whose students are achieving high levels of success, and give students an extra boost in job and college applications, McLean of Linked Learning Alliance said.
For students, the advantage is being able to list on resumes and college and job applications that they graduated from a silver- or gold-certified program. For schools, certification can bring bragging rights as well as help meet assessment goals, McLean said. Students who graduate from the highest-level certified programs may get accelerated opportunities in college or help finding jobs through the National Academy Foundation, a national network of education, business and community leaders that supports linked learning programs.
The data compiled for certification could also potentially help the California Department of Education as it develops an indicator of college and career readiness. Certification includes data on the number of students who do job shadows, workplace tours and internships, and who learn job application and other work-related skills.
Seven districts have already embarked on the certification process. Bijou Beltran, director of career education at the Oxnard Union High School District, said trying to achieve certification has been a useful way to evaluate the district’s 22 linked learning academies.
“I’ve always been shamelessly proud of our academies, but this helped us see areas where we could improve. Are we providing enough internships? Administrative support? How are we doing on A-G curriculum?” she said. “How do we really know we’re doing a great job? This rubric is helping us figure that out.”
Staff from the Linked Learning Alliance, which is underwritten by The James Irvine Foundation, will randomly audit the certification applications and in some cases may visit a school site. Each district will pay $1,000 annually for an unlimited number of applications.
For Joan Bissell, the director for Teacher Education and Public School Programs at California State University, linked learning certification will bring a level of legitimacy and uniformity that will benefit students, schools, employers and colleges.
“It will give students a sense of agency and self-esteem, and for educators, recognizing excellence is in itself an incentive,” she said. “Until now, when we’ve looked at the numbers what have we been focusing on? Outcomes. Now we’ll know how well we’re providing students with opportunities to learn.”
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